Saturday, December 26, 2015


By Don Elliot
Stark House
257 pages

Robert Silverberg is best known for his science fiction titles but during his early days as a writer, he produced hundreds of racy sex pulps under very pseudonym.  In this volume, Stark House reprints two he did under his Don Elliot by-line. The book’s real bonus is Silverberg’s introductory essay in which he details those years between the 50s and 70s when such “risqué” paperbacks flooded the drugstore spinner racks and push the boundaries of sexual acceptance. There is humor in how restrictive the writing had to be to adhere to the more of the time; the so-called sexual revolution hadn’t fully infiltrated the public with its anything goes philosophy.  And so writers had to be inventive with their choice of words in describing the amorous antics of their characters.

In the first tale, “Lust Queen,” a New York mystery writer named Joey Baldwin is given the assignment of ghost writing an autobiography of a popular Hollywood star named Mona Thorne. To do this he has to leave his young, nubile young fiancée for several months; something he is definitely not happy about. Then, upon his arrival in L.A., he discovers that Mona Thorne is an aging sexpot wishing to make him her new love interest and she quickly seduces. Joey doesn’t mind the sex, but Mona is a real she-bitch who demands complete obedience.  Although formulaic in its set-up, “Lust Queen” in interesting in that creating a writer as his protagonist, Silverberg authentically details the publishing world as it existed in those post World War II days gives us an intimate look at the life of a professional pulp scribe.

With “Lust Victim,” the tableau involves a happily married suburban couple, Dave and Moira Lamson.  Dave owns his own business in the city and is doing quite well, and with young boys, Moira is a busy, content mother and housewife. What is clear at the offset is that they still enjoy sex a great deal. Then one night, a burglar breaks into their house, ties Dave up and rapes Moira in front of him. It is a brutal act compounded by the fact that the attacker strongly resembles Dave. After the rapist has fled with what little jewelry he stole, Moira is so emotionally shocked that she makes Dave promise not to tell the police about the rape, only the robbery. He capitulates but soon comes to regret that action when in the succeeding days he slowly discovers just how changed his wife has become.

Rape is always a traumatic experience but when reading “Lust Victim,” it is easy to see that people’s attitudes and reaction to it back in the 60s was far more ignorant than today. Initially Dave naïve believes all Moira needs is time and that she’ll eventually return to her former self and they can merely get on with their happy lives. When this doesn’t happen and she begins to push him off from any physical contact, he is not so much understanding as angry and frustrated. Enough so that he falls prey to the temptations of his flirtatious secretary. And of course his dalliance doesn’t stop there. The more annoyed he becomes with Moira, the more he excuses his cheating habits with the rational that if his wife cannot meet his sexual needs than he has no choice but to go to bed with other women. It’s a convoluted logic, but if one is writing a “sex” book, then one has to have x number of sex scenes to titillate the readers.  Eventually Dave forces Moira to get counseling and this leads to uncovering a very dark secret regarding the night of the rape. A secret, when revealed, leads to dramatic climax, exposed the rapist and ends with Dave and Moira once again happy bed partners…just like that. Once has to wonder if Dave will ever get around to telling Moira about all his escapades while she was going through her personal ordeal?

Reading these books today without knowing their history most likely elicit unfair critiques. Despite one’s thoughts on the field of 60s adult paperbacks, what no reviewer can argue is the competency in which Elliot/Silverberg wrote. His fiction is always precise and enticing, regardless of the plot, his skill as a writer is what is always on display and for that reason alone, picking up this volume is well worth it. Hey, even the best authors had to make a buck.

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